Friday, 28 June 2013

You Are Not Theologically Correct

We Christians say the darndest things. We like to ask whether something is theologically correct, for instance. There is something about this question, this pursuit, that sets my teeth on edge.

Right from the heart of the matter, the idea that a statement or a belief is theologically correct probably comes from the early periods of Christian history. We spent a long time arguing about doctrine. We had several ecumenical councils about doctrine. We had schisms over doctrine. Our very identity as Christians has been fought and argued over doctrine. All the creeds are evidence of this. And we do have a lot of creeds.

But wait, Andrew! I don't go in for this "doctrine" stuff. I just believe in Jesus.

Whether you know it or not, you probably hold to several doctrines that have been argued about and created splits in the church. The trinity? That's a doctrine. Communion is just bread and wine? That's a doctrine. Every time we've created a doctrine we do it to establish "correct theology" with the result that there are some people who end up with "incorrect theology." Every doctrine has at least one contradicting doctrine, and both are ardently believed and taught by sincere Christians.

Some doctrines are derived from the finer points of the Bible, or even outside of the Bible. A difference this way or that has divided communities, launched civil wars, unleashed untold evil into the world. Most of it came about because one part of the church was so proud as to enforce their notion of being theologically correct.

In a way, the pursuit of theological correctness is a Sorites paradox. We know that a thousand grains of rice is a pile of rice. And we know that by taking one away we still have a pile of rice. And if we take one more away we still have a pile of rice. But how many grains are required to make a pile? It's not a perfect illustration, but it makes the point that we know when something is A and when something is B, but it's not always possible to know where the boundary exists between A and B.

So I'm wrong to ask whether something is theologically correct?

Not wrong, just dangerous. The pursuit of finding meaning in the faith is good and worthwhile. Faith seeking reason, as Aquinas put forward, is the challenge for every Christian. Even Kierkegaard's so-called "irrational fideism" is argued for with reason. But are we so confident in our reason that we can put the final stamp on it and say that it's theologically correct?

Navigating the boundaries of doctrine requires an intellectual finesse that few of us have. However, it's a finesse that we can learn and develop. In Hebrews we are encouraged to press on to maturity (5:11-14), a maturity that is marked not by theological correctness but by the ability to discern between good and evil, an ability that comes through practice.

This kind of practice is the pursuit of every one who follows Christ. By following Christ we become more mature and gain the ability to discern between good and evil. Following Christ does not make us theologically correct, it just points us in the right direction: the person of Christ.
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